To retain or not to retain? The pros and cons of representing yourself in a divorce, child custody matter, or other domestic relations cases.
This is a common question that we hear from potential clients. Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all answer. Rather, it generally depends on the complexity of the case, the personalities involved, and the consequences at stake, among other things.
First of all, to get some legal jargon out of the way, to represent yourself is called being “pro se.” In Latin it means “for oneself” or “on one’s own behalf.”
The pros of representing yourself pro se:
- You are not incurring attorney fees.
- It may help to keep things amicable with your spouse.
- The cost of hiring an attorney may not outweigh the benefit.
For example, let’s say you and your spouse have no children, have no abuse issues, do not own a home, and generally live pay check to pay check so there is not a lot in the bank. This is a common scenario for many people. Is it worth to hire an attorney just to divide debt? It may not be.
The cons of representing yourself pro se:
- You may end up needing an attorney after the fact because you did not follow a procedural rule. For example, you failed properly to disclose an asset under C.R.C.P. 16.2(e)(10) and now your ex-spouse is seeking to re-open the asset/debt.
- You may get an unfair result.
- You don’t know the rules of evidence and what is or is not admissible.
- You don’t know your rights.
- You don’t know what courts generally do and so you do not know what to ask for.
At BAM, we always recommend you come in for a consultation to determine if your case can proceed with or without an attorney. Often we have clients who come in thinking that they need an attorney. However, at BAM we want you to avoid the cost of an attorney if you truly do not need one and we will be the first to tell you that, if that is the advice you need based on the facts of your case.
There are some cases in which BAM will be adamant that you should have an attorney, whether in our office or elsewhere, simply because of the potential consequences of proceeding without one in a complex matter. Some of these cases include, but are not limited to, the following:
- A hearing regarding a charge of Contempt of Court. If you are found to be in contempt, even in a domestic case, you could be facing criminal penalties, even jail time.
- A Permanent Protection Order (“PPO”) hearing. If a PPO is entered against you, it can have lifelong effects. Your employment might be, and you would be prohibited from having a firearm. Further, PPOs can be difficult to make go away because by nature, they are meant to be permanent.
- A Motion to Restrict Parenting Time. If a Motion to Restrict is filed against you, it is self-executing, which means it goes into effect the moment it is filed. You are then entitled to a hearing within 14 days. However, during those 14 days, you may not be able to see your children OR your visits with them will be supervised. At the hearing itself, the Court will determine if the restriction should be extended for a longer period or even made permanent.
The above list is merely a limited set of examples of scenarios that may imply the need for assistance of an attorney. However, all cases are different and the facts of your case will determine if you need an attorney. The fact of the matter is that even what seems like the most straightforward domestic relations case will have a dramatic impact on your life. We always recommend that you consult with an attorney to discuss the facts of your case, especially where a consultation with a firm like BAM will provide you an overview of strategy that you can either execute with BAM or on your own. The attorneys at BAM will work hard to come up with creative options for you to make sure you get the help you need.
Do not hesitate to give us a call or send us an email to set up a consultation so we can answer any of your questions!
-by Kyle McFarlane